Magazine I by I 16.02.24

Interview: VTSS & Actual Objects

LA-based studio Actual Objects on how they suspended reality in their collaboration with electronic musician VTSS.

In the opening scene for VTSS’s Notoriously Fast music video, a lone motorcyclist speeds around a bend on the edge of a dark forest. As night falls, the rider blends in with the looming sky above and the asphalt that lines the road below. The unknown biker journeys on, blazing through a green-lit vortex-like underground tunnel that blurs into the background as the biker gains speed, clearly impatient to reach their destination.

Suddenly the video cuts to a flash of scenes featuring a lone, menacing woman, bathed in red and drenched in darkness, before cutting to a deserted, hazy, black rock beach. The lone woman appears again, like a sinister premonition somewhere in the distance. She stands waiting upon the rocky shore, her minatory gaze searching for something beyond the murky horizon, fixated on watching the waves break before the tide retreats. And there she waits, anticipating the biker’s arrival.

Created at 180 Studios XR space at 180 The Strand, this collaboration with LA-based Actual Objects is one in a series of four new videos by Martyna Maja aka VTSS. The London-based, Polish-born artist, who came up in the Berlin and London techno scenes, has since stepped out of the shadows with moody, pop-tinged anthems that invite listeners to uncover her multidimensional character.

Both in the video and across the pages of this exclusive collaborative feature, Claire and Rick Farin, the co-founders of Actual Objects, merge the natural and the digital world, combining original footage with AI, CGI and VFX to suspend reality as quickly as they destroy illusions. Fact brought these creative trailblazers together to discuss nostalgia, futurism and the digital/human interface.

This feature was originally published in Fact’s F/W 2022 issue, which is available to buy here.

CLAIRE MOUCHEMORE: Countless Actual Objects projects heavily reference sci-fi scenes, supernatural and alien-like beings, and video game motifs, which are represented through a mix of nostalgia and futurism. The video for Notoriously Fast includes similar themes. What inspired the concept for the video?

CLAIRE FARIN: Recently, I’ve been focused on this book House of Psychotic Women: An Autobiographical Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror and Exploitation Films by Kier-La Janisse, which looks back on psychotic women featured in horror movies, so that was a major reference, as was Possession, which has always been one of our favourite films. For this project, we were also very inspired by Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin, and although we really abstracted the narrative, we wanted to position Martyna as a character similar to the otherworldly woman that the film follows, as she lures men to their death.

RICK FARIN: The movie Holy Motors and its use of the surreal and visceral is something we also tried to channel in the motorcycle scenes by introducing an element of realism that still feels quite strange and uncanny. We always have a reference that functions as a starting point for the storyline, which generally gets trashed by the end of the process and becomes something completely different. We try to bury the narrative as much as possible until we’re left with something more subtle.

MARTYNA MAJA: The track is called Notoriously Fast, so that was no doubt a starting point. The whole process was fast; it was a fast friendship between the three of us, a fast collaboration that came together in just a few weeks and the video features me riding a motorcycle, so it’s very on brand with the ‘fast’ narrative.

CM: Martyna, you’ve shared previously that your Circulus Vitiosus EP explores a handful of different characters that are ‘too raw and relatable to be entirely fictional’. How did these characters manifest?

MM: Compared to the music I made in the past, I approached this new EP in a more personal way. I never felt like I could reach a level of vulnerability through making beats. Once I started writing and incorporating lyrics, I was able to channel different versions of myself; some of which are exaggerated. Other characters I explore through this EP echo the way I behave in my normal life but may not be visible to everyone every day – the way that I like to see it is that I’m sharing a more intense version of myself that people may not know or come to expect.

CM: Claire and Rick, how did you break down the task of representing this idea and visualising these characters in the video?

RF: A lot of inspiration actually came from the other videos in the series linked to the EP because we’d examined the other videos closely and were aware of the through-line concept. We’ve been fans of Martyna’s for years and were very familiar with her and her work, so we had a pretty clear idea of how to develop all these different characters.

CF: The original narrative, similar to that of Under The Skin, was meant to be that the, let’s call her sea witch [laughs], was being hunted by the biker while the sea witch was subtly luring the biker towards her, into the ocean and to the biker’s death. We wanted to play on the duality of the characters and reveal, at the end, that the characters are all, in fact, the same person, the aggressor, the hunter and the siren, and that they all battle and live within one person.

CM: Actual Objects videos often combine footage with AI, CGI and VFX to create different environments. Claire and Rick, how do you merge the natural world and digital world in this video?

RF: For us, bringing those two worlds together has always been at the core of our work. Even down to the studio name: Actual Objects. The whole idea behind that name was that, in many ways, even digital and 3D objects are still technically something physical. The metals and rare bits of earth that a hard drive is made up of are inherently natural and physical, and the digital world needs those naturally occurring materials to exist.

CF: 180 Studios has a fantastic XR stage, which we used to create a pre-configured 3D virtual environment for different parts of the footage. Sometimes we like to remind people of how we transform environments and MM certain spaces by leaving in something that breaks down the illusion and shows our process. For example, in the Notoriously Fast video, the XR stage we used at the studio ended up being far more realistic than we ever imagined, so we left in a shot where Martyna and the background don’t sync up and it’s obvious she’s not physically and literally riding a motorcycle along a motorway tunnel. For the images, we added some AI bits around Martyna’s neck to make everything look a bit more alive and uncanny. That part was done by Case Miller, who’s also part of the Actual Objects studio. He’s a genius who’s been developing a lot of really cool, AI-embellished work with us.

RF: With this video, we really tried to play around and blur the lines between what’s real, where things were shot and how things were made. We want people to question where things are taking place: Is this a liminal space? Is it all CGI? It’s about the push and pull between nature and technology and how they’re not always so separate. It’s all kind of merged together, which is something we do with all our projects. Most of the shots in the video have been altered in some way. There’s even a shot that is fully CGI, which we made by scanning Martyna in her biker outfit, sitting still on the motorcycle in the 180 The Strand studio. We then processed everything with AI to make it look like she was in motion. So it was a real bike in a fake setting, processed with AI, so it has a really crazy interpolation effect that morphs in and out of untouched footage.

CM: Martyna, this EP marks a new era of a more expansive, genreless VTSS sound. How has this new direction transformed how you approach making music?

MM: VTSS has always been just who I am, it’s not a project – it’s me, through and through. I named this EP Circulus Vitiosus after the Latin phrase, which also inspired my artist name and is, by definition, an endless energetic feedback loop of cause and effect wherein something negative can lead to something beautiful, or indeed the reverse. I chose this EP title because I wanted to open the door to who the character behind the name is. I didn’t want to be anonymous anymore and that’s all I was when I was DJing. This new chapter involves inviting people to see and experience the VTSS character, who is, at the end of the day, an exaggerated version of me and my many traits. VTSS follows me on my journey and it has always and will continue to evolve, just as I do. I also have severe ADHD, so I get bored really quickly and like to keep changing things up.

CM: Your more recent output as VTSS has led you to take on a more personal approach to releasing music, and for the Circulus Vitiosus EP you shot four music videos that visualise each track. How has it been putting yourself front and centre in this video and the others in the series?

MM: This EP is my chance to finally connect all of my interests. I’m really excited that I’m finally able to create something deeper and work with visual artists to connect the dots. With Circulus Vitiosus, I’m allowing myself to go wherever I want without being afraid of all the tracks sounding very different from one another. It’s the first time I feel as though a record actually traverses my many musical interests. Introducing the visual aspect was such a crucial part of this project. It’s not normal to release four videos for a four-track EP; in fact, it’s absolutely crazy. It’s been a lot of work, but I’m so happy to be able to introduce people to the universe of what VTSS really is and I’m grateful I got to work with these two on executing that vision. Collaborating with so many creatives on these four videos has been the highlight of the project and has helped me express myself beyond the music.

This feature was originally published in Fact’s F/W 2022 issue, which is available to buy here.

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